Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a prisoner swap that will allow thousands of families to be reunited, United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths said in Sweden on Thursday.
Peace talks between Yemeni government representatives and a Houthi delegation began on Thursday, the UN envoy delivered his statement at a press conference.
The reduction of violence, Sanaa Airport, humanitarian access and economic challenges will be discussed, Griffiths said.
Earlier on Thursday, a top Houthi militia official threatened to bar UN planes from using the Yemeni capital’s airport, less than two hours before UN-brokered peace talks were due to open in Sweden
“If the Yemeni capital’s airport is not opened to the Yemeni people in the peace talks in Sweden, I call on the (Houthi) political council and government to close the airport for all planes,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted.
Meanwhile, the Yemeni government demanded that the Houthis withdraw from the port city of Hodeidah.
Yemen’s foreign ministry demanded the “coupist militias withdraw fully from the western coast and hand the area over to the legitimate government” via Twitter – a reference to Houthi-held Hodeidah.
A 12-member government delegation, led by Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Yamani, arrived in Stockholm Wednesday evening, one day after a Houthi delegation flew in from Sanaa — accompanied by the UN envoy.
The talks mark the first meeting between Yemen’s legitimate government and Houthi militants, backed by Iran, since 2016, when 106 days of negotiations yielded no breakthrough in a war that has pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine.
The Sweden meeting follows two major confidence-boosting gestures between the warring parties — a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the Houthi-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman.
The government delegation was carrying the “hopes of the Yemeni people to achieve sustainable peace,” said Abdullah Al-Alimi, the head of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s office.
The delegation had delayed its departure until the Houthis had arrived in Stockholm after they failed to show up for the last UN bid to convene peace talks in September, sources close to the government told AFP.—AFP